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Jesusita Fire: County Officials Help Put Residents On the Road to Recovery

From permits to taxes, a community meeting guides victims through the rebuilding process

First and Second District Supervisors Salud Cabajal and Janet Wolf on Monday evening hosted a community meeting for those affected by the Jesusita Fire.

“My thoughts and prayers really go out to you who have been displaced or lost your home,” said Wolf, who lost her home to the Painted Cave Fire 20 years ago.

Emceed mostly by Office of Emergency Services chief Michael Harris, the meeting gave the audience an idea of what services the county and state could offer those rebuilding and repairing their homes in the wake of the Jesusita Fire.

The one piece of advice that resonated throughout the meeting was that homeowners and renters should waste no time in getting their homeowners or renters insurance together. On June 2, California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner will be in the area to assist those with questions about the insurance process.

“Do your insurance piece first,” said John Baker, director of the county’s Department of Planning and Development. Insurance may not cover services such as debris removal or demolition if done before the homeowner files a claim, he said.

Those who build the same home will not have to go through the land use permitting process, only the building permitting process. Baker said that even if the homes are the same ones the county already has plans for, the homeowner still will have to build to code. Also, trailers are allowed on the property with a permit for up to 18 months. Those who need assistance from the Planning and Development Department can call Petra Leyva at 805.568.2071.

Similarly, those who plan to build the same house will not get reassessed for property taxes, said Rick Holly, chief appraiser for the county Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s office. As of May, those who lost their homes in the Jesusita Fire will be taken off the property tax rolls and will receive a refund check this summer. They will not be required to pay until their homes are rebuilt.

Joe Holland, registrar of voters, reminded attendees that they will be able to cast provisional ballots for Tuesday’s special election.

Those who have been through the Gap and Tea fires will remember the scrambling the County Public Works Department had to do to control erosion in the hillsides before winter rains hit. The situation is not as urgent, Public Works’ Tom Fayram said, but the Flood Control Department is examining the area and will put together a watershed response plan to protect the area from erosion this winter. The watershed response plan is meant to address ersion in an area as a whole, but for those homeowners who have specific problems on their properties, the department is preparing information that will be released online.

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County Supervisors Janet Wolf and Salud Carbajal hosted Monday evening’s Jesusita Fire recovery forum. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

Those with questions can call the Natural Resources Conservation Service at 805.928.9269 for advice on erosion control. Meanwhile, Public Works will be providing sandbags to neighbors who need to prevent erosion on their properties.

As for debris removal, Public Works’ Scott McGolpin said, the county will be playing a supporting role. Anyone with questions regarding debris and cleaning should call 805.882.3605 or visit the county Web site.

The department is planning a collection day for June 11 to haul away hazardous materials free of charge. “We would like to know from the residents who have been impacted by June 8, if you would like the county to come in and provide that service,” he said.

Those who have to deal with asbestos are encouraged to hire an asbestos contractor, who specializes in the removal of the carcinogenic material. Property owners who wish to deal with their debris, including asbestos, should use protective gear, including the appropriate masks to prevent inhaling hazardous particulates. People with asbestos questions are asked to contact the Air Pollution Control District’s Mike Broughton at 805.961.8872.

Speakers were on hand Monday evening to discuss the kinds of fraud residents may be vulnerable to during this time.

Sgt. Stuart Thompson, a detective with the California Insurance Department Fraud Division, said his department has been contacting neighbors in the affected areas to warn them against unlicensed contractors and public adjusters. Residents with questions are encouraged to call 800.927.4357 or go online for help. For questions about contractors, call Brenda Fink, an investigator from the Contractor State License Board, at 818.585.7075.

In addressing neighbors’ safety concerns, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department’s Sol Lindbergh assured attendees that there is heightened enforcement in those areas to watch for thieves and trespassers.

The disaster recovery most likely does not qualify for FEMA funding, Harris said, because it was an isolated incident, not part of the series of firestorms that affected California last year. However, there may be some funding through a disaster declaration of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The County Administration Building’s first floor is now home to the Local Assistance Center, a comprehensive source of information from city, county, state, federal and nongovernmental agencies to help victims of the fire recover.

Aside from local officials, those rebuilding from the Tea Fire also came to lend their support and expertise with recovery.

“What I can say to you all, where you’re at, is take a deep breath,” said Claire Gottsdanker, president of the Mountain Drive Community Association. “The process is slow, and may not go where you think it’s going to go.”

The first three months are the hardest, she said, and affected neighbors should spend their energy wisely. The Mountain Drive Association will be working with the Mission Canyon Association. Those who are still looking for housing are encouraged to e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for assistance.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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